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As Christians, we lean toward the lost, the poor, the outcast, and the outsider with the compassion of Jesus – as sinners whose only standing before God is utterly dependent on the mercy of God.
This mercy can only be truly received inasmuch as we are willing to give it away.
We believe that ministry in Jesus’ name should be expressed in concrete ways through the local church. The poor are to be served as though serving Jesus Himself. This is one of the distinguishing characteristics of a church expressing the love of Christ in a local community.
In all forms of ministry, compassion is a hallmark of the one who was moved with compassion Himself in the face of human need. This being the age of grace and “the year of the Lord’s favor,” compassion should constitute the leading edge of our service to God, each other and a broken world.
As such, we seek to avoid unauthorized judgments of others, realizing that we are all fellow sufferers and strugglers with the rest of humanity.
THE KING WILL REPLY, “TRULY I TELL YOU, WHATEVER YOU DID FOR ONE OF THE LEAST OF THESE BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF MINE, YOU DID FOR ME.”
ALL THEY ASKED WAS THAT WE SHOULD CONTINUE TO REMEMBER THE POOR, THE VERY THING I HAD BEEN EAGER TO DO ALL ALONG.
INTRODUCTION: OUR VIEW OF THE POOR
Who are the poor? Today, we often see poverty through the lens of economics or personal financial weakness. In the New Testament, however, the poor are generally seen as those who are powerless in society, and who therefore lack the basic necessities they need to sustain their lives. Without resources, and without a voice, they lack not only power, but also social respect and material goods. Because of the daily stresses of survival, relationships often break down. Poverty is a disease of society, and the remedies for all our social ills are found in the life and teaching of Jesus.
In the Scriptures, it seems that God has a special place in his heart for the poor. Poverty is mentioned, directly or indirectly, more than 2000 times in the Bible. Reminding us of the Church’s call to care for the marginalized and impoverished among us, Jesus said words that pierce us to this day:
“…‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matt. 25:40).
As Christians, we are called to lean toward the poor, the outcast, and the outsider with the compassion of Jesus. The Church is optimally designed to actively serve the poor in the most practical ways possible – in our towns, cities, and spheres of influence.
And that commitment must go beyond individual Christians living vicariously through ministries or other people’s work; we are each invited to live a radically compassionate life in the way of Jesus.
In the Bible, it seems clear that faithfulness to Jesus means that we are faithful to remember the poor, serve the poor, build community among the poor – and to love the poor motivated by the love of God.
- What does it mean, to you, to care for the lost, the poor, and the outcast?
WHAT JESUS SAID ABOUT THE POOR
The Poor In The Old Testament
In the Gospels, we see Jesus spending a considerable amount of time among the poor, serving them, encouraging them, and even standing up for them. He was carrying on the deep, rich Jewish biblical tradition of providing for those in need.
These words from the book of Deuteronomy reveal God’s tenderness toward the socially vulnerable:
“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing” (Deut. 10:18).
“If there is a poor an among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs” (Deut. 15:7-8).
“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” (Deut. 15:11).
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Is. 58:6-7).
The Poor In The Gospels
From these roots, Jesus calls the early Church to commit to seek out the poor and dignify them with their care:
“Looking at his disciples he said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God’” (Luke 6:20).
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed” (Luke 4:18).
“…But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous’” (Luke 14:13-14).
The Poor In The New Testament
Following Jesus’ example, the apostles and the early Church embody Jesus’ love for the poor:
“All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along” (Gal. 2:10).
“Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13).
“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5).
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
A Community Of Christ That Cares For The Poor
After Jesus’ resurrection, in the earliest years of the Church, the Roman government struggled to care for the masses of widows and orphans overrunning their society.
Motivated by Jesus’ model, and realizing that the poor were to be welcomed as Jesus himself, the early Christians addressed the issues of social struggle surrounding orphans and widows. Some scholars suggest this may have been the primary reason the Church grew like wildfire in its first century of life.
Since those early days, the church of Jesus Christ has been marked by our care for the least, the last, and the lost. When the marginalized and forgotten of any society are brought into the center of a loving community that worships Christ, powerful things begin to happen.
Jesus has called us to care for the poor – both for their sake and our own
- Think about how we can minister to the poor in our area.
- What are some fresh ideas you have from reading this section?
WHAT THE POOR MEAN TO US
Giving What We Have Been Given
As Christians, we can say that we are invited – by Jesus’ own lifestyle model – to lean toward the lost, the poor, the outcast, and the outsider with the compassion of Jesus as sinners whose only standing before God is utterly dependent on the mercy of God. This mercy can only be truly received inasmuch as we are willing to give it away.
In other words, we as a Body of Christ “lean toward” those who are suffering and are weak in society. We do so not because we believe we are better than them, or because we believe we can fix them. We lean toward the poor, the outcast, and the outsider because we ourselves have experienced the kindness and mercy of God.
God did not look at each one of us and decide to show us mercy based on whether or not we had gotten ourselves into a mess, or because we were blameless and someone else had done something to us. He simply looked on us with love, then acted in compassion to rescue us from the kingdom of darkness.
Grateful people, who know the joy of their salvation, tend to be more careful when it comes to judging others. The Church must seek to be a thankful group of people, so that when we see someone in need our hearts are ready to respond with care rather than judgment. As Jesus said, “He who is forgiven much, loves much” (Luke 7:47). Through our spiritual practices as churches, we want to become people who love much.
The Poor Are Jesus To Us
What do the poor mean to us? In the profound moment when Jesus said, “…Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40), he was teaching us how to see the poor. We see the poor not as “underprivileged” or “needy,” but rather as “Jesus.” Like Mother Theresa, who regularly cared for the poor in Calcutta, India, churches generate ministries around the globe that see the poor as Jesus – and are serving them with great dignity.
A story about John Wimber illustrates this tenderness toward the poor. John was known for keeping a bag of basic groceries in the trunk of his car while looking for someone to whom he could give them.
He once said, “Many Christians and Christian leaders have been neutralized by the love of money and materialism. The homage paid to affluence becomes a burden that saps our energy as well as our love for God and other people. Through repentance and the cleansing of forgiveness, we can rid ourselves of this burden and begin to let God transform our value system. Like Jesus and Paul, we can learn to be content with what we have, living modestly in order that we may give liberally to the work of the kingdom and to meet the needs of others.”
It is in this spirit that we seek to operate as Christians. Because the poor mean much to Jesus, we must seek out those who are the most in need around us. With the resources in our hands, we desire to invest in Good News being shared with the poor – both spiritually and materially.
Lifting People From Poverty And Injustice
Of course, this will look different in different places. Poverty means many different things in different parts of the world. Churches exist in these places, and it is part of our genetic code to join Jesus in his mission to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
For this reason you will find churches around the world caring for the poor as though caring for themselves, eagerly sharing their resources to help lift people from poverty and injustice.
- What is real “Good News” to someone who does not have many physical or financial resources?
HOW CAN WE SERVE THE POOR?
Getting Involved With The Poor
There is so much injustice in our world today, we can feel paralyzed by the sheer scope of need. Yet if we ignore injustice, and turn our back on the powerless and the poor, the Scripture tells us that something very sad happens. God hears our worship as “noise” until we “…Let justice roll on like a river; righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:34).
But how can you and I get involved? Amid the thousands of images of suffering we see on our streets, televisions, phones, and computer screens, how do we choose where we will invest our lives?
Here, the words of Jesus can move us forward: “Give and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). In other words, if we just start giving – giving time, resources, and energy to those in need – God will both guide us and give us what need to do his will.
Across the Body of Christ today, there are literally hundreds of ways to be involved in caring for those in need. We have ministries that address the sex trafficking industry, poor health and sanitation issues, economic injustice, racial injustice, and issues of spiritual poverty. Many faith communities are committed to innovating new expressions of ministry for the world’s most vulnerable to get the resources they need.
Faith Is Spelled R-I-S-K
Many years ago, Carol Wimber used the language of the “haves” and the “have nots” when speaking about the church’s call to serve the poor. One day, we are the “have,” with food on our table, peace in our home, and provision for our education. On another day, we might be the “have not,” in need of someone to share their resources and influence to help us change the circumstance we are in. The “have nots” need the” haves” for their supply, but the “haves” need the “have nots” to give meaning to the gifts that God has place in their hands.
In your community, either through your local church or through a relief organization, there are opportunities to get beyond your comfort zone and to get involved. Sometimes we must jump off the diving board before we know if there is water in the pool! Finding God in the midst of a new adventure means diving in and trusting that God will help you as you do.
The Church’s history is rich with literally thousands of stories of people who encountered Jesus and his kingdom through someone reaching out to them with care. In churches around the world, we often match people’s life experience with a need. For example, if you are a young woman then perhaps ministering to young women rescued from the sex trafficking industry is a next step for you. If you have known the difficulty of joblessness, it is possible that a great start for you would be to work with the homeless and jobless of your city.
Sharing some of our experiences with others in need can break down invisible barriers, creating supportive relationships. Often, God uses our stories to open the heart of another to Jesus – giving an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to provide for them in ways no one else can.
Joining The Father Among The Poor
Our calling as Christians is not to ask God to bless what we are doing in our churches, but rather to get involved in what God is already doing in our city or town. We see God’s heart for the poor, and we see him moving among the weak to bring deliverance and healing through his people.
In fact, many of our churches around the world are building their faith communities among the poor, integrating with those in need as neighbors, friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ. Long-term care, job placement, and enrichment paths are set in motion, and those broken by poverty or abuse often rise to become healthy, hopeful, and healing followers of Christ.
Get involved caring for the poor in your local context, with a humble heart to serve. You’ll be amazed at what changes in you as you follow Jesus among the poor
- What is the Father doing among the poor, and how can you join Him in His work?
BECOMING A COMPASSIONATE PEOPLE
Getting Involved With The Poor
Compassion is a word we often use in the Church to sum up the kind of Christians we want to become. Jesus “had compassion” on the harassed and helpless (Matt. 9:36), and this moves us to want to have compassion in all that we do as churches.
Compassion literally means “to suffer with.” When we learn to “suffer with” those in physical distress, or economic pain, over time we begin to carry God’s heart for the poor. Compassion is learned by doing the work of the kingdom – the work of serving the poor. This takes moving beyond mere sympathy for the poor. Compassion is a motivation of the heart that gets our hands dirty, and causes us to live in a way that is contrary to a world turning its applause toward anyone with celebrity status, wealth, or reputation.
Hear these words from the prophet Isaiah, that reveal a promise from God when we act compassionately in the world he loves:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I” (Is. 58:6-9).
We can practice radical hospitality, radical welcome to those in need, just as the early Church did. We can seek out those who are marginalized by society (even by churches) and treat them with dignity and honor. We can see the lost, the poor, the outcast, and the outsider through the loving eyes of Jesus. In fact, we can even see the poor as Jesus (Matt. 25:40). When we remember the poor, when we serve the poor – we are serving Christ.
- What does it mean to show radical hospitality to those who are in need?
- What have you learned from this study about yourself, and about who and what God loves?
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